Much later than anticipated, I arrived in total darkness in Goroka, where I stayed overnight, to take an early PMV to Kundiawa. After having been in the hot and humid Sepik and coastal regions, it feels great to be in fresh, cool air as the minivan is working its way up the Daulo mountain pass, just under 2,500m altitude. Views from the top are great, and we reach Kundiawa earlier than I had anticipated. As it turns out, one of the passengers of the minivan is traveling to Keglsugl as well, and has arranged a pickup truck which indeed shows up within ten minutes. After taking fuel and shopping at the supermarket, I think we are ready to go. Instead, we keep on driving around town in circles, and I learn that we are waiting for one passenger who is still at a bank waiting for his turn. In the end, it takes more than three hours before we actually leave Kundiawa. Shortly after leaving, the road starts to climb, and we enter a gorge. We pass by some caves, and as we climb higher, the views get better. I am happy to be in the back of the truck. There will be several more stops, we take up sand for one school, food for someone else: drivers in this valley routinely run errands for others, just because they own wheels. There are stretches where the valley is narrow, where we cross white rivers on rickety wooden bridges, but also sections with sweeping views over the green slopes of steep mountains. After several hours, we stop in a curve; people here are crying out loud, and it turns out that they are family of an 18-year old girl from Keglsugl who died a few days before. Before I know it, I am also hugging old, wailing ladies, comforting men, until I realize that tears are running down my own cheeks as well. Some of the women come with us, as does a lot of food. The girl will be buried the next day. When we finally arrive in Keglsugl, we cross a bridge which is decorated to welcome the dead girl home, and more family members are waiting for the vehicle - more wailing and more tears follow. I take my bags, walk up to the old airstrip where I find a very pleasant guesthouse to stay in. While the main reason for me to come here is to climb Mount Wilhelm, I also want to explore the surrounding area of Keglsugl, also to acclimatize before attempting the mountain. I hike up the surrounding mountain, get soaked because the trail is narrow and the grass is very wet, and enjoy the views from a ridge overlooking the pleasant village which lies at around 2,500m. I am back just before dark.
The next morning, I am up early; the weather looks great, and I cannot resist the temptation and walk up the airstrip again. This time, I continue the track that runs through the village, past a small church, and houses scattered around the fields. Someone approaches me, and turns out to be John, the guy that my hosts have asked to be my guide. We chat a while, and then he takes me to a lookout point where we see the river running down the valley. An older guy walks up, carrying two logs on his shoulders, and we talk for a while. We end up carrying his logs to the village where he will sell them, so he can take a break. After breakfast, John and I set off for a hike. We start by following the track that eventually runs all the way to Madang. It climbs gradually: a great way to get used to the altitude here. After a while, we come across the most recent landslide, which has effectively cut off the road. It is possible to climb down, cross the stream over a bunch of logs, and continue on the other side. Mountains are steep here, and landslides occur regularly. Actually, when we look over the valleys below us, it is clear to spot the recent landslides: they are open spaces in the forest that covers that mountains. A little further up, we buy strawberries, wash them, and feast on them. They are gorgeous, super sweet, a real treat! The sky over the high mountains clears, and we can see much of the high peaks above Keglsugl, but not Mount Wilhelm. I start wondering if we should have climbed the mountain this morning, but then realize there is nothing else we can do now. We walk until we reach a mountain pass, from where we look on the other side of the mountains, towards Madang. An old guy lives here with what probably is his granddaughter, and we have a lunch with his homemade bread and some weak coffee. Instead of taking the same track back, John proposes to take a trail down, which turns out to be a very good idea. It is easy to follow, cuts right through the forest, with plenty of small waterfalls, but without views. The path is pretty steep at times, and becomes easier when we finally reach the first houses on our way down.
We have to climb over fences, and soon reach a decorated house with an old woman knitting in front of it. She sends her daughter away and within minutes, we are given a tray with freshly picked strawberries. Standing under a tree with a string of jaws of killed pigs, we enjoy them to the full: again, they are very sweet, and a delicious reward for the hiking we have done. We continue our way down, meet several other people in their traditional houses on the way down. One of them shows us a steep path down to one of the streams running to the main valley. We now start seeing the effects of the big landslide that occurred just a couple of weeks before. The river pushed big rocks forward, felled trees, pushed houses down, wreaked havoc on hydro power installations people had installed, swiped away private fields where people were growing crops. Miraculously, no one died: people saw it coming and were able to evacuate their houses before the river hit the village. Even now, when things are quiet again, it is impressive to see what the force of nature can do. A two story house lies on its side as if it were a small box that a toddler pushed over. A tree pierces through another house. Some houses have just disappeared altogether. People are strong here: they are rebuilding their houses, are replanting crops, are planning to repair or rebuilt their village - while they all know that there will be another landslide in the future. We cross a wooden bridge and come to the small market of Keglsugl, from where we walk uphill to the airstrip again before night falls. The weather is still good, and I am getting excited about the big climb we will start in the morning. But first, it is time for a refreshing cold shower and some rest, while keeping my fingers crossed for the weather. I realize that even if the climb somehow would be disappointing, my stay in Keglsugl is already a success - the village is pleasant, and its surrounding region a great place to hike around.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Keglsugl (Papua New Guinea). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Keglsugl.
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